Rob Edwards Exclusive Blog: Hornets start to the campaign, squad building and Ismaila Sarr’s wonder-goal at West Brom
Rob Edwards - August 25, 2022
Each month we speak to the Watford manager about the latest from the Watford camp as he provides exclusive insights for Stake.com.
You started your reign as Watford Head Coach with a hard-fought victory over Sheffield United. What did you say to the players ahead of that first game?
That I wanted them to show the togetherness and spirit we’d all worked so hard to build during pre-season.
I felt if we did that, and connected with our fans at the same time, we’d have a great chance to show our quality and find some chances to take all three points on the night.
Joao Pedro finished off a fantastic, free-flowing counter-attack in that game. Was that kind of quick breakaway something that’s been worked on in training?
Definitely using the pace of our forwards, yes, and the ability to hit teams in transition – when possession changes from one side to another – as that’s often when a team is at its most vulnerable.
You very rarely replicate exactly what’s gone on, on the training pitches, because there’s the other elements during a game like the adrenalin of the players and the buzz of having to be instinctive with your actions to a degree; so, I think that goal showed elements of being ready to take advantage but also expressing individual talents towards a team goal.
What did it mean to you personally to get the three points in front of the Vicarage Road faithful in the first game?
I’m not keen on using the word ‘I’ too often because this is very much about us as a collective; that’s players, staff and supporters all working towards the same positive outcomes.
It was obviously a very special night, and we’ve managed to follow that up at home with another 1-0 victory so it’s a really pleasing start as a new Head Coach still very much adapting to new surroundings and the challenges they bring.
Ismaila Sarr’s goal from inside his own half made headlines around the world in the next match against West Brom. Is that something he practises in training, or did it catch even you by surprise?
You wouldn’t necessarily practise something like that, but you might have in mind that you’ll get an opportunity to do something special in game, something unlikely perhaps.
Sometimes that might be an overhead kick, for example.
I’m not sure there’s a coach in the world that would get players to line up and practise those!
So similarly, it’s about that player using his own special talents to do something spectacular by recognising a moment and a chance that presented itself.
It was fantastic awareness of a situation and a special goal we’ll all have the privilege of saying we witnessed.
That match was also notable for the goalkeeping heroics of Daniel Bachmann, he helped the club gain promotion to the Premier League in 2021, what does he bring to the team’s defensive set up and how important is it to have players with his experience in this league?
First and foremost, he’s a genuine and positive guy and that reflects itself in his attitude which is all geared towards getting the best result for the team.
When you see how many clean sheets he kept at this level two seasons ago, as a coach you draw comfort from the fact you’re going into games with a known quantity between the sticks – someone who’s proven at this level.
Having said that, with Maduka and Ben, we’ve got three top-level goalkeepers competing for the one place and I’m sure there’ll be a time for them all to shine.
Mario Gaspar made his debut at The Hawthorns. His signature was seen as a real coup by the club. How is he settling in?
He’s a classy guy with exceptional experience at the top level in Europe, so who wouldn’t be delighted to have him available?
He’s settled in well. He’s going to work hard on his English, but in the meantime there’s lots of Spanish speakers to help him along.
He’s played as part of two different formations now, from the West Brom game as a wing-back into the Burnley game as a full-back part of a four then back into wing-back at Birmingham City in the week, so he’s shown his know-how and versatility already.
The club then made it two 1-0 wins from two at home against Burnley, a team many expect to be in the promotion hunt. What was the most satisfying aspect of that performance for you?
The ability to show resilience when under real pressure.
Sometimes, as well as reflecting on your own performance, you’ve got to give credit to an opponent – like a Burnley – that keep the ball well and put you under a sustained period of pressure.
I felt we’d controlled the game well in the first-half, so it was more of a grind after half-time.
So, resilience with concentration and determination to see the game off were very pleasing aspects of the match for me.
Last week saw the arrival of Hamza Choudhury, a player who has played in Europe and an FA Cup winner, he slotted straight into the midfield against Burnley and looked right at home. What can we expect from him this campaign?
I think you can expect to see him deliver Premier League experience and know-how into the middle of the park for us.
He’s had to bide his time for playing minutes at Leicester and I’m sure he’s going to relish getting plenty of game time with us here.
When loans work well, as we hope this one will, they’re great for all three parties: the loaning club, the parent club and the player most importantly.
Let’s hope that’s the case with Hamza as he’s made a great start to life here.
Keinan Davis also came in on loan from a Premier League club in Aston Villa, what will he add to the side?
He’s dynamic, powerful and skilful and he can give defenders problems in different ways.
Even during his short time on the pitch at Birmingham on Tuesday, you’ll have been able to see his willingness to create space for team-mates and be a focal point for our attack.
We’re all very excited to have him here and to witness the qualities he’ll bring to our group.
We’re getting towards the end of the transfer window, how is it for you navigating the market at this time of year and what are the key challenges bringing in new players at this particular time?
When you’re working closely as part of all the recruitment conversations, it’s fine because it means I’ve got all the very latest information without having to do most of the work that comes with being across the transfer market all the time.
We’re in a really comfortable position right now.
It might seem strange to say that, but we knew at the start of the summer there’d be interest in some of our players so what’s happening now isn’t really a surprise.
The biggest challenge with getting players into the building is waiting for that green light from the selling or loaning club – because they’ll have their different priorities in terms of things looking to fall into place with their own recruitment plans.
You recently said that you are aiming to give some of the club’s academy stars their chance in the first team, are there any names that you have your eye on?
What I promised is that we’d give young lads a chance to impress us in training.
You can’t make promises about game time, because everyone who wears that yellow shirt has to have warranted their place and be selected on merit.
So, let’s see who stakes a big claim for some involvement.
I’m a massive fan of developing young talent by creating a pathway, by showing lads what’s on offer if they can make the grade.
Nothing would give me greater pleasure than seeing some young pros get a first taste of the action – but they’ve got to earn that right.
Looking beyond the Championship, the Champions League gets underway in a couple of weeks – who are your picks to be the European Champions and top Goalscorer?
I'm going to say Manchester City will finally get over the line, and I think the signing of Erling Haaland can prove the most important factor; so, I'm going to select him as top goalscorer.